Mall no longer an educational experience

USF will stop holding classes at movie theaters this fall, after offering them at the University Mall for seven years.

Kathleen Moore, associate vice president of academic affairs, said the move was simple.

“We have the space on campus now,” she said. “As we built new buildings and added classroom space, the numbers at the mall have declined.”

Moore oversees Classroom Technology Services, which managed the mall classrooms. She said ceasing classes at the Mall was not her decision, but provost Ralph Wilcox’s.

“Our only involvement was with the staffing of the classrooms,” Moore said.

Wilcox said he was responding to student interests when he made the decision. Students were dissatisfied with the large classroom sizes and the extra fees, he said. In addition to having to drive there, students were charged $7.50 to take a class at the mall and the smallest classroom theater held about 170 people.

“We have heard both anecdotally and at meetings with students that they are not satisfied with the learning environment in the University Mall,” Wilcox said.

Once the C.W. Bill Young Hall – located next to the Campus Recreation Center – opened, the University was able to have all its students on campus, he said.

“We will not be sending students off campus to take classes and ask them to pay (extra),” Wilcox said.

He also said that some students expressed a concern for safety. However, University Police (UP) spokeswoman Lt. Meg Ross said UP does not have any reports of students expressing safety concerns.

This does not mean there are no safety concerns at the mall, she said. Many times when a student calls to report feeling unsafe, it is not documented as a report, but the student generally receives advice from the responding officer about safety.

According to the 2007-2008 USF Safety Guide, 12 robberies were reported on a building or property not on campus. They were reported by outside agencies, including the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the University Mall itself.

Ross, however, said that most of the robberies were probably committed at the mall.

Wilcox said it did not matter whether there were reported incidents at the mall: If the students felt unsafe, it was causing enough damage.

“If we don’t provide safety as a basic provision, our academics are threatened,” he said.

USF had an annual contract with the mall, which it decided not to renew for fall 2008.

Tom Locke, general manager of the University Mall, said the mall was notified a couple months ago that USF would not be renewing its contract.

Although the mall will not see the 2,400 students who were bused to the movie theaters for class, Locke does not think this move will cause the mall to lose revenue.

“We’re one block away,” he said. “If you look at the lineup of stores in the mall, it reflects a mall that’s located close to a university.”

Priscilla Brewer, a professor in the Department of Humanities and American studies, said she taught one class at the mall in fall of 2007 because she was assigned there.

“I swore I would never volunteer to teach there,” she said.

She taught Intro to American Studies and said that although the commute to the mall was inconvenient and time-consuming, it did not impede on her ability to teach.

“In that class, I used a lot of video material, and in a movie theater that’s a plus,” Brewer said.

Withley Edwards, a junior majoring in accounting, said she took one class at the mall and enjoyed the excuse to leave campus.

“You get to get off the campus,” she said. “I feel congested on campus.”

Ashley Smith, a junior majoring in education, said the classroom experience was the same, except the class was much larger and the commute was a hassle.

“You had to figure out how long it would take and if the bus would come on time,” she said.

USF started using the theaters at the mall as classrooms in 2001 after budget cuts forced the University to make major cutbacks, Locke said.

Unable to build more lecture halls to accommodate incoming freshmen, USF started renting theaters from the mall during the day to be converted into classrooms. This allowed the University to have more students taught by one professor.

Some classes filled up quickly, Locke said. Some students even sat on the floor.

Locke said the mall was trying to help USF get through a difficult period.

“We were happy to help out so we could get the students to the mall,” he said.